A Ranking of David Lynch Films

A Ranking of David Lynch Films

Oliver Folan, Contributor, '22

It was in the midst of a global pandemic during quarantine last year that really started digging my teeth into films from a variety of different filmmakers, but the director that seemed to stick with me the most was David Lynch. His films were the ultimate form of escapism during a time when escaping was essential. With each dosage of surrealism, atmosphere, and dark comedy that David Lynch infused into each of his films, I was completely entranced by the worlds that he created.

Each movie is assigned a clip of a scene I enjoy from that movie. Anyway, here is my ranking of David Lynch’s 10 films.

  1. DUNE (1984)

DUNE, based on the novel written by Frank Herbert, is David Lynch’s only bad film, as far as I’m concerned. When watching the film, it becomes obvious that there was a lot of studio interference during the making of this film. There are attempts at being a more hypnotic space epic, like BLADE RUNNER 2049 for example, but it never commits fully to becoming that which results in a painfully boring, convoluted, and overall meaningless experience.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9xhJrPXop4 (there are no scenes in this film that I enjoy, so here is the trailer for the new DUNE movie coming out this year directed by Denis Villeneuve)

  1. WILD AT HEART (1990)

WILD AT HEART is a romance/dark comedy about Sailor and Lula, played Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern respectively, and Lula’s mother’s attempts to keep them separated by destroying the love that so closely bonds them together. Nicolas Cage gives an absolutely incredible performance in this film that is deeply comedic and passionate, complementing David’s style beautifully. There are also two scenes in which he breaks out singing, and each time he does it I can’t help but laugh hysterically at its insanity. The first scene in particular when he sings is one of my favorite scenes in any movie. With Nicolas Cage’s short monologue about his snakeskin jacket, the repetitive screaming sound effects, the thrash metal band suddenly playing the doo wop song without hesitation, the scene becomes deeply unsettling and absurdly funny. That being said, this film does have its flaws, most of them lying in fact that this film is inconsistent in tone and pacing. Scenes do not flow together in a coherent manner until the third act when things start to pick up. I also did not particularly like Diane Ladd’s performance in this film, where she plays Lula’s mother. I’m still confused on why she was nominated an Oscar for this film because I found her character and performance to be awkward and unfunny. I’ve never loved WILD AT HEART as much as some of David’s other movies, despite having certain aspects that I adore. Perhaps it deserves a re-watch.


  1. LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

LOST HIGHWAY is about a jazz musician who is suspected of committing various crimes that he may or may not be guilty of. The first 40 minutes of this are absolutely perfect. It started off with such a great intensity and atmosphere, but then something happens after those first 40 minutes that changes the entire film, and from that point on the film got really boring and even a little bit self-indulgent. David Lynch takes risks in every film that he makes, but the risks he takes this movie don’t pay off as well as they could have. If the rest of the film were a good as those first 40 minutes this would certainly be top 3 Lynch.


  1. THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)

THE ELEPHANT MAN is David’s most accessible film, but it’s also nearly impossible to dislike. It’s a true story about a man with a severe congenital disorder, played by John Hurt, as his life slowly begins to improve under the treatment of Dr. Treves, played Anthony Hopkins. It’s a timeless story conveyed beautifully through mesmerizing black and white cinematography and wonderful performances from John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins. I do prefer David Lynch’s more weird films, but THE ELEPHANT MAN is still a great film that everyone should watch.


  1. ERASERHEAD (1977)

ERASERHEAD is one of David’s weirdest films, which says a lot knowing how weird all of his films are and that this was his directorial debut. The fact that he was able to solidify and showcase his style so confidently and successfully in his first film just goes to show go incredible of a filmmaker he is. Even by today’s standards, this movie is incredibly unconventional and highly off kilter. It is essentially about a man’s struggles in caring for his deformed newborn baby. Explaining the plot for this movie is a bit redundant, honestly. It’s just something you have to watch. The practical effects are so impressive, especially with the baby in this movie. The sound design is also immaculate, conveying this industrial backdrop that surrounds our main character, played excellently by Jack Nance. ERASERHEAD never ceases to impress in how weird, dark, atmospheric, and disgusting it is.



Given how vulgar and disturbing some of David Lynch’s other films are, it still surprises me that he directed a film like THE STRAIGHT STORY, which is rated G and is currently available for streaming on Disney Plus of all places. Yes, David Lynch has technically directed a Disney movie, and it’s one of his best. It’s so heartfelt and well written, showing one elderly man’s journey as he drives across the country on his lawnmower in an attempt to reconnect with his brother. Along the way he stops and talks with various people, young and old, about aging, love, and even war. It’s a powerful film that often gets slept on when discussing David’s filmography.


  1. INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

INLAND EMPIRE is about an actress, played by Laura Dern, who is staring in a movie which she and her costar, played by Justin Theroux, eventually learn is a remake of a film that was unfinished due to one of the actors getting murdered. INLAND EMPIRE was the first David Lynch film I ever saw, and while I don’t think this is a good David Lynch film to start with, I am glad this was the first David Lynch film I got to experience, because this movie absolutely blew me away when I first watched it. The film was shot on an incredibly cheap digital camera and is 3 hours long. It is also maybe the most confusing movie I have ever seen, but its atmosphere is so wild and attention grabbing that I never once felt board. I remember watching it late at night and was so freaked out by the film’s unpredictability. There are a handful of jump scares that are quite genius and innovative, especially one towards the end that is by far the scariest jump scare I have seen in a film. I may not have a good grasp of what actually happened in the film or what it means, but it honestly doesn’t matter. This film is so incredible, and I highly recommend it. The only place you can watch it is on YouTube.



This film is a prequel to the highly successful show TWIN PEAKS and focuses solely on Laura Palmer, taking place before her inevitable death of which the central mystery of the show revolved around. There is a common theme in many of David’s films that deals with good and evil. He will often present the world within his film to the audience as some sort of perfect utopia, whether it be the white picket fences at the beginning of BLUE VELVET, or the sunny, idealistic portrayal of Hollywood at the beginning of MULHOLLAND DRIVE. But then, as you start to immerse yourself within whatever world David has created, he exposes the audience to the evils that are hidden underneath the surface, showing how evil is everywhere, even in places where you don’t expect it. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALKS WITH ME is the complete opposite of that. There is no goodness in this film. Evil has corrupted every crevice of this world. This film is genuinely one of the most unsettling and disturbing films I have ever seen, featuring one of the most iconic performances of all time, that being Sheryl Lee’s portrayal of Laura Palmer. On a purely subjective level, this or INLAND EMPIRE might actually be my two favorites in Lynch’s filmography.


  1. BLUE VELVET (1986)

Released directly after the garbage fire that is DUNE, BLUE VELVET was exactly the type of film David needed to save his career. It is about a young man who starts progressively getting more and more involved in a crime investigation when he accidentally stumbles upon a severed ear while walking home one day. BLUE VELVET still film still holds up as being one of the best crime thrillers/mysteries of all time. Kyle MacLachlan more than makes up for his performance in DUNE as this young man who is in over his head as he tries to infiltrate this gang of sex crazed lunatics led by Dennis Hopper, who gives one of the most unhinged performances I have ever seen in a film. BLUE VELVET is weird, dark, disturbing, and everything you would expect from a David Lynch movie and more.



MULHOLLAND DRIVE is the film that David’s entire career was leading up towards. It’s an enthralling commentary on Hollywood that is so masterfully put together. With all its images and metaphors, it can be hard to wrap your head around everything David is trying to accomplish, but it never hinders my enjoyment of the film. The film rewards multiple watches, which I admire. Its atmosphere is so transfixing, and the use of music is also really great. I implore anyone who hasn’t seen this film to watch it immediately and do so with as little knowledge as possible on the film itself. At the moment in time, it is what I think to be David Lynch’s best movie.